United Nations, 16 January 2008 – Serbian President Boris Tadic urged the UN Security Council Wednesday to reject a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, whose prime minister said a decision on the issue would be made soon.Noting that Security Council resolution 1244, adopted in 1999, “guarantees the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia,” Tadic appealed to the council “to prevent the encouragement and the adoption of a unilateral act on the independence of Kosovo.”

But after making his case for independence at a separate closed-door session of the 15-member council, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former ethnic Albanian guerrilla leader, told reporters that the Serbian breakaway province was “ready for a final solution.”

“Very soon we will take a decision,” said the Kosovo Albanian leader, vowing to make an independent Kosovo “a country of equal opportunities for all its citizens.”

Albanian separatist leaders are expected to declare the unilateral independence of the UN-run province early this year following the collapse of international attempts to reach a negotiated deal with Belgrade.

The move is likely to be approved by the United States and a number of European countries, but Serbia and its ally Russia, a veto-wielding council member, have vowed to oppose it.

Thaci said he shook hands with Tadic “as leaders of two independent countries” at the start of the meeting and pledged that in future Kosovo would “build good relations with Serbia.”

“We must make every effort to solve the misunderstandings and conflicts in our part of Europe peacefully and by agreement only, not by making unilateral moves,” Tadic for his part said at an open council debate.

He pressed for additional efforts to “arrive at a mutually acceptable solution so as to ensure … in accordance with resolution 1244, a substantial functioning self-government (that) would guarantee all rights to the Kosovo Albanians.”

“Such a solution is possible and attainable,” Tadic said, while pledging that Belgrade “will not resort to violence and war.”

He however stressed that if violence broke out in Kosovo and the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) was unable to react and protect the Serb minority “in an appropriate way”, “we are ready, and I underline with the agreement of competent international institutions and in respect for international law, to help and provide protection to the threatened population.”

The ethnic Serb minority, who make up fewer than 10 percent of Kosovo’s population of almost two million, fiercely opposes independence.

Resolution 1244, which underpins UN rule in Kosovo, calls for respect of human rights, protection of minorities and freedom of movement in the province.

Last month, the Council failed to break the impasse over Kosovo’s future in its first meeting since four months of talks between the parties ended in failure December 10 over the issue of sovereignty.

US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said after Wednesday’s meeting that the council was “still blocked” on the issue, welcomed Thaci’s commitment that he “wants to represent all Kosovar communities” and warned Serbia against resorting to economic pressure against Kosovo.

And he urged Belgrade “not to make what happens in Kosovo with regard to the final status an issue that would negatively affect for the long-term Serbia’s relationship with Europe and Serbia’s relationship with the United States.”

The US envoy said that ultimately the solution for the Balkans region was “to integrate into the broader European institutions, particularly the EU.”

But Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin made it clear that if Kosovo opted for unilateral independence, it “would not be able to become a member of the United Nations and other political institutions”, hinting clearly that it would face Moscow’s veto.

Also attending Wednesday’s debate was UN special envoy for Kosovo Joachim Rucker who briefed on the activities of the 4,618-strong UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Technically still a Serbian province, Kosovo has been under UN stewardship since a NATO bombing campaign forced Belgrade-backed Serbian forces to leave the province, ending a crackdown against separatist ethnic Albanians.

Source: AFP